on Matthew 5 :47
And if ye salute your brethren only - Instead of αδελφους brethren, upwards of one hundred MSS., and several of them of great authority and antiquity, have φιλους friends. The Armenian Slavonic, and Gothic versions, with the later Syriac, and some of the primitive fathers, agree in this reading. I scarcely know which to prefer; as brother is more conformable to the Jewish mode of address, it should be retained in the text: the other reading, however, tends to confirm that of the Codex Graevii on Matthew 5:43.
On the subject of giving and receiving salutations in Asiatic countries, Mr. Harmer, Observat. vol. ii. p. 327, etc., edit. 1808, has collected much valuable information: the following extract will be sufficient to elucidate our Lord's meaning.
"Dr. Doddridge supposes that the salutation our Lord refers to, Matthew 5:47, If ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? means embracing, though it is a different word. I would observe, that it is made use of in the Septuagint to express that action of endearment; and which is made use of by an apocryphal writer, (Ecclus. 30:19), whereas, the word we translate salute is of a much more general nature: this, I apprehend, arose from his being struck with the thought, that it could never be necessary to caution his disciples, not to restrain the civilities of a common salutation to those of their own religious party. Juvenal, when he satirizes the Jews of the apostolic age for their religious opinions, and represents them as unfriendly, and even malevolent, to other people, Sat. xiv., and when he mentions their refusing to show travelers the way, Non monstrare vias, etc., or to point out to them where they might find water to drink when thirsty with journeying, takes no notice of their not saluting those of another nation; yet there is no reason to believe, from these words of Christ, that many of them at least would not, and that even a Jewish publican received no salutations from one of his own nation, excepting brother publicans.
"Nor shall we wonder at this, or think it requisite to suppose the word we translate salute (ασπαζομαι) and which certainly, sometimes at least, signifies nothing more than making use of some friendly words upon meeting with people, must here signify something more particular, since we find some of the present inhabitants of the east seem to want this admonition of our Lord. 'When the Arabs salute one another,' according to Niebuhr, 'it is generally in these terms, Salam aleikum, Peace be with you; in speaking which words they lay the right hand on the heart. The answer is, Aleikum essalam, With you be peace. Aged people are inclined to add to these words, And the mercy and blessing of God. The Mohammedans of Egypt and Syria never salute a Christian in this manner; they content themselves with saying to them, Good day to you; or, Friend, how do you do? The Arabs of Yemen, who seldom see any Christians, are not so zealous but that sometimes they will give them the Salam aleikum.'
"Presently after he says: 'For a long time I thought the Mohammedan custom, of saluting Christians in a different manner from that made use of to those of their own profession, was an effect of their pride and religious bigotry. I saluted them sometimes with the Salam aleikum, and I had often only the common answer. At length I observed in Natolia, that the Christians themselves might probably be the cause that Mohammedans did not make the same return to their civilities that they did to those of their own religion. For the Greek merchants, with whom I traveled in that country, did not seem pleased with my saluting Mohammedans in the Mohammedan manner. And when they were not known to be Christians, by those Turks whom they met with in their journeying, (it being allowed Christian travelers in these provinces to wear a white turban, Christians in common being obliged to wear the sash of their turbans white striped with blue, that banditti might take them at a distance for Turks, and people of courage), they never answered those that addressed them with the compliment of Salam aleikum. One would not, perhaps, suspect that similar customs obtain in our times, among Europeans: but I find that the Roman Catholics of some provinces of Germany never address the Protestants that live among them with the compliment Jesus Christ be praised; and, when such a thing happens by mistake, the Protestants do not return it after the manner in use among Catholics, For ever and ever. Amen!'
"After this, the words of our Lord in the close of the fifth of Matthew want no farther commentary. The Jews would not address the usual compliment of Peace be to you, to either heathens or publicans; the publicans of the Jewish nation would use it to their countrymen that were publicans, but not to heathens; though the more rigid Jews would not do it to them, any more than to heathens: our Lord required his disciples to lay aside the moroseness of Jews, and express more extensive benevolence in their salutations. There seems to be nothing of embracing thought of in this case, though that, doubtless, was practised anciently among relations, and intimate friends, as it is among modern Asiatics."
If not to salute be a heathenish indifference, to hide hatred under outward civilities is a diabolic treachery. To pretend much love and affection for those for whom we have neither - to use towards them complimentary phrases, to which we affix no meaning, but that they mean, nothing, is highly offensive in the sight of that God by whom actions are weighed and words judged.
Do not - the publicans - Τελωναι, - but εθνικοι heathens, is adopted by Griesbach, instead of τελωναι, on the authority of Codd. Vatican. & Bezae, and several others; together with the Coptic, Syriac later, and Syriac Jerusalem; two Arabic, Persic, Slavonic; all the Itala but one; Vulgate, Saxon, and several of the primitive fathers.
on Matthew 5 :47
And if you salute your brethren ... - The word "salute" here means to show the customary tokens of civility, or to treat with the common marks of friendship. See the notes at Luke 10:4. The Saviour says that the worst men, the very publicans, would do this. Christians should do more; they should show that they have a different spirit; they should treat their "enemies" as well as wicked people do their "friends." This should be done:
1. Because it is "right;" it is the only really amiable spirit; and,
2. We should show that religion is not selfish, and is superior to all other principles of action.
on Matthew 5 :47
5:47 And if ye salute your friends only - Our Lord probably glances at those prejudices, which different sects had against each other, and intimates, that he would not have his followers imbibe that narrow spirit. Would to God this had been more attended to among the unhappy divisions and subdivisions, into which his Church has been crumbled! And that we might at least advance so far, as cordially to embrace our brethren in Christ, of whatever party or denomination they are!